Neighborhood feud

Wedding events spark controversy

A large tent was recently erected on the Medearis’ property to provide shade for grape-pickers and shelter for wedding attendees in the event of poor weather.

A large tent was recently erected on the Medearis’ property to provide shade for grape-pickers and shelter for wedding attendees in the event of poor weather.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

A neighborhood feud in a west Chico neighborhood has been simmering since May when Mark Medearis and his wife, Robin Flores Medearis, began holding weddings on their 6 1/2-acre ranch off Kennedy Avenue just outside of Chico city limits.

About 30 neighbors have formed an association to protest the wedding events because the noise, they say, literally spills into their back yards, disrupting their home lives.

The Butte County Planning Commission is in the process of changing the land-use ordinance to allow for the weddings which, up to this point, have been conducted without a proper permit. The new zoning says that a property with an agricultural use—such as a winery, olive-oil producer or micro-brewery—may hold such events as a way to increase tourism and spending in the county.

Three years ago, the Medearises planted 800 vines of table grapes, which are just now producing grapes.

“It’s a very contentious issue in the neighborhood,” said Tim Snellings, director of the county’s Department of Developmental Services. “They want people to be able to come in and pick their own grapes. As we wrote the general plan over the last five years, we wanted to do something to support the agricultural base of the county and that includes allowing for accessory types of activities to occur on agricultural operations.”

But the neighbors don’t buy it and neither does Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk, who visited the neighbors during one of the weddings in May.

“They’ve been scheduling weddings since February without permits,” Kirk said. “Tim Snellings let them go ahead with the weddings. We’re kind of doing this backwards.”

She said other venues in the county are doing the same thing without proper permits.

“It’s something that has escaped us,” she said. “It is very complicated. They are in the middle of a land-use lot adjustment. There are 11 immediate neighbors. You can hear the weddings from a fairly long distance. A neighbor named Jonathan Day said you can’t sit in the back yard for family get-togethers because of the thump-thump-thump of the music.”

Day’s property backs up to the Medearis’ property.

“The major complaint is that this is zoned agriculturally and all our little houses here were grandfathered in well be before the Greenline was approved,” Day said by phone this week.

His house was built in 1968 on a third of an acre.

“The way they’ve decided to do it is sort of an end run around the ag-zoning ordinances that allow for special events,” he said.

The land sits in Supervisor Larry Wahl’s district.

“I attended a meeting in which the neighbors conveyed their concerns and the owner made their case,” Wahl said. “It’s working its way through our staff. If the Planning Commission approves it, then it goes into effect unless the neighbors appeal it. No matter how it goes, one side or the other will appeal it is how I see it.”

Snellings said he thinks the Medearises have a good case.

“The ag use has been there two years,” he said. “I don’t know their intent, but would have a hard time believing they could calculate this so far in advance. We just adopted out code last December. Because our code doesn’t really have a wedding section, this is a very fortuitous set of circumstances for them to have planted the three acres of grapes so that they can use this section [of the property for weddings] and even make an application to do this.”

Flores Medearis said the weddings bring business to the county and provide a nice place for couples to tie the knot.

“The girls come here on Friday for rehearsal—they have the run of the place,” she said. “Saturday mornings are when there is a beehive of activity with their makeup and their hair. They spend the day enjoying their time. This is all about getting ready.”

She says weddings bring in people from out of town who stay in local motels, purchase gasoline and shop. The wedding events give business to local caterers, florists and photographers, she added.

The couple’s 4,000-square-foot house was built in the early 1990s.

“We really waited to get involved in the agriculture,” Flores Medearis said. “Mark’s family had farmed this land at one time back in the 1930s.”

She said one of the attendees at a May wedding was NFL star Aaron Rodgers. At that particular wedding, neighbors called the Butte County Sheriff’s Office at about 8:30 p.m., and deputies responded. She said they reasoned with the deputies and no noise-ordinance charges were filed.

“I have no clue why everybody gets so up in arms,” she said. “The county held a neighborhood meeting in May before the first wedding and the neighbors were very rude.”

Day, the neighbor, when asked if he fit the description of a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), had a ready reply: “What is wrong with objecting to something that interferes with that back yard?” he asked. “Or to something that is going to affect property values? Our retirement is in our houses.”

The matter comes before the Planning Commission on July 25.